House defense bill includes acquisition reform

Included in the $612 billion House-passed defense bill are some of Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry's proposals for overhauling military purchasing.

Shutterstock image (by retrorocket): Cutting red tape.

A $612 billion defense authorization bill passed by the House on May 15 is “an initial step in a long-term effort to inject greater flexibility and accountability into the acquisition system,” according to a House Armed Services Committee summary of the legislation.

The bill’s passage by a 269-151 margin is a signpost in House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry’s quest to reform the process by which the Pentagon spends tens of billions annually on weapons and IT. The Texas Republican had indicated his intent to fold acquisition legislation he introduced in March into the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, and he has done just that.

The House defense bill would require every major defense acquisition program to have a strategy that covers risk management and encourages competition throughout the lifecycle of a program.

The House defense bill also includes Thornberry’s proposal to create a “dual-track” career path for military officers involving both combat and acquisition experience. That provision would “more closely align the military operational, requirements, and acquisition workforces of each armed force,” the bill says.

But the Defense Department’s top acquisition official, Undersecretary Frank Kendall, has criticized this proposal as not allowing for enough specialization within the DOD acquisition workforce.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version May 14 on a 22-4 vote. The Senate bill also harps on acquisition reform and, like its House counterpart, would give the service chiefs a greater role in the acquisition process, “decentralizing to the maximum extent practicable decision-making authority to the services,” according to a committee summary.

But here again Kendall has expressed skepticism, saying recently that he has “seen some very disastrous cases” in which service chiefs have set arbitrary dates for program deliverables, leading to undue risk-taking.

The defense authorization package still faces several hurdles before it can become law, including a vote in the full Senate, reconciliation with the House version of the bill, and the signature of President Barack Obama, who has threatened a veto of the House bill.

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